AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Senate’s Committee on Health and Human Services held its second hearing Tuesday, focusing on how COVID-19 has impacted Texans’ mental health.
And while kids don’t fall into the most vulnerable category for COVID-19 infection, they’re experiencing mental health issues at the same rate as adults.
It was an issue that began increasing even before the pandemic started, Cook Children’s co-medical director of Psychiatric Services Dr. Kia Carter explained.
“Sadly, we have seen the number of children admitted secondary to suicide attempt double over the past five years,” Dr. Carter told the committee via Zoom Tuesday, as all testimonies were heard virtually.
In September, Cook Children’s set a stark new record.
“We had the highest number that we’ve ever seen since we’ve tracked…37 youth who were admitted to our medical center due to suicide attempt,” Dr. Carter reported.
She says in recent months, the most difficult part for kids has been the isolation.
“They need that interaction, they need that teaching support, which we’ve seen a lot of our kids become hopeless, give up, not want to continue with virtual schooling, because it’s so hard for them to engage or interact or get the support that they need,” Dr. Carter explained.
Other emotional outlets have also been limited, which cuts down on coping mechanisms.
“We promote healthy ways to cope with stressors or difficulties. And a lot of that is kids participating in their sports, their activities, whether it be, and that’s all kind of been stripped away from them,” Dr. Carter said.
But there’s one positive of the pandemic — increased access to telehealth services.
“In our outpatient clinic, the numbers of no-shows decreased significantly when telehealth was offered,” Dr. Carter said. That’s why she, and other mental health experts, asked lawmakers to extend those services today.
“Extend the waivers temporarily through the end of session, give the legislature time to weigh this and extend them out, make them permanent,” Dr. Andy Keller, CEO of Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, testified to the state senators Tuesday.
They’re also asking lawmakers to consider increasing mental health funding overall this session for preventative measures and treatment options.
“We know that early identification, intervention and treatment is essential to prevent further complications of mental illness,” Dr. Carter said.
There’s also trouble with existing coverage.
“We get insurances denying a specific level of care saying that a child doesn’t need an inpatient level of care. We also get a lot of pushback about medication,” Dr. Carter said. She also asked lawmakers to consider giving mental health care providers more leverage with insurance companies.
The state senators also heard testimony from professionals regarding domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health in nursing homes Tuesday. The full hearing can be found here.